Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Eating Pies on Trams Syndrome

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other times it’s only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand - Bob Dylan "Every Grain of Sand", 1981
His veteribus sub tectis
Carmen vocibus sucentis
Celebrate virginum
Mistos lusibus labores
Operosa fructuosa vita debet exige
Palladis, potens sui. - Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School Song

Walking home - 94th Street, Manhattan 2015
A hundred years ago I went to an exclusive all girls' high school in Melbourne.

Mac.Robertson Girls' High. We sang our school song in Latin. We had to wear hats and gloves when in uniform outside the school's grounds. We weren't allowed to eat on trams. Our French teacher was called simply, "Madame".

One day an ex "MacRob girl" who must have been very ex to our young eyes - she looked to be at least forty - complained to the headmistress about the behavior of one particular girl on a tram .

Looking back, the headmistress Miss Barrett was a very ordinary women. But at that time us girls fantasized that she had once had a lover; a dashing young man who had died in the trenches at the Somme. That's the kind of gals we were. Very "Picnic at Hanging Rock" kind of girls.

But back to the ex MacRob girl who complained. Apparently she had seen a girl in a MacRob uniform not only not wearing gloves, but eating a meat pie on the number 69 tram the day before. The PA system directed all girls who had been on a number 69 tram to go to the general assembly hall for a line-up.

The Conch, 1963
And yes, I had been on the number 69 tram. Of course I hadn't been eating a pie. And I always wore my gloves. I was what they called a "conch", which was I believe, short for conscientious.

Nevertheless I was sure that the ex-MacRob snitch would choose me from the line-up. I even felt guilty. I  internalized the guilt of the unknown naughty girl. A bit like Jesus was meant to do when he died for our sins I suppose. But then I have never had enough cognitive dissonance to understand that concept.

I remember thinking that all us number 69 tram girls looked the same, and that how could she tell who had eaten the pie. The rest of that day is now a blur. Receding long ago intro that dark and distant past - the  olden days.

And then it all happened again. Déjà vu like no other déjà vu. The déjà vu of déjà vus!

Commuters on the M102
June 2015. I was on the M102 bus on Third . On my way home from work. An announcement over the bus PA - "Calling all bus drivers. An elderly woman has strayed from her nursing home. She has graying hair and is wearing black. She has dementia. If you see this woman please call 511."

I looked around nervously. Furtively. Dreading the pointing finger. It was the pie lady all over again.

And yet - how did I know it really wasn't me? Perhaps I was only thinking I had been to work that day. Perhaps I was really that lost woman with dementia and had imagined I had a job and belonged in the real world.

"I'm getting OFF this bus lickety spit!" I told myself.

No pies for me! And certainly not on a bus.

But really, it isn't funny. I am old.

I am so old it takes forever when I am filling in an online form. When I am prompted for the year of my birth I have to scroll downward through the years, down down down; it takes years to get there.

I am so old, that words from my childhood that have not seen currency for decades have been recycled by millenials.  Such as "dig it" - an expression I understand was popular in the beatnik era when I was still in school. Not that Latin-singing MacRob girls used such words.

"I don't dig it," I heard one millennial say to another millennial just last week. I remember it distinctly because it sounded so strange. Millenials rarely speak in public. Unless it is into their cell phones. This was face-to-face. Real-time. Possibly there was even eye contact.

Yes I am definitely old.

I am so old that I only just found our that there is a popular band called Mumford and Sons.

But that's a good thing.

Isn't it?

Friday, May 08, 2015

Painted Ponies

And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return we can only look
Behind from where we came - Joni Mitchell, The Circle Game, 1968

I've been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
'Cause there ain't no one for to give you no pain - America, Horse with no Name, 1971

Carousel, Brooklyn
"As the associate said to the guest" ....

If  I could think of a good punch line I would have written it. But I can't.

"Associate"?  "Guest"? Context? I am always amazed the way words are recycled to describe old things - things that could be construed by the paranoid, as being politically incorrect.

So now, people that sell you stuff in stores are not sales assistants, or even "in retail" (as they say in Australia), but are "associates". And people who come into a store to buy stuff, are not "shoppers", but "guests".

Which makes one wonder, what name do we give to people who we invite into our homes. No longer "guests" but ....

Surely we can't give away names willy-nilly.

When I had not been long in America, and had not understood about THE revolution, and how the English were baddies... fresh from the colonies I walked into an Eileen Fisher shop on Madison. Shoppers and the people behind the counters were all on cell phones.

I had about six pieces of clothing draped over my arm. I approached the counter with the cash register on it. And in all naivety, I asked the shop assistants (Australian for affiliates), was there anyone there who could serve me.

"Oh SERVE you, oh so sorry m'lady, would you like a cocktail?" sarcasted the only affiliate who wasn't on her cell phone.
I was speechless. "Would you like a martini? On the rocks? Or perhaps madame would like the cocktail of the house?" she went on. and on. And on.

"I only wanted to buy clothes," I whispered, before I hurried out.

What's in a name? Excuse me, but a lot apparently. Now I am very careful what words to use in America. They haven't forgotten the British. The Redcoats. The lords and ladies of the manor born.

Of course, buying clothes anywhere isn't easy. Last year I was in Melbourne Australia. I wanted to buy something Australian. I went to the usual places, places of my youth. Myer, David Jones, and a few Lygon street boutiques.

And found something that I have barely seen in Manhattan clothing stores. Old people serving ... oops I mean elderly associates ... oops I mean senior associates.

They annoyed hell out of me. I would be wandering around the store looking through racks of clothes and they would actually approach me.

"Can I help you?" "Exactly what is it that you are looking for?" And so on. I would leave in a hurry. My New York private space invaded. " What's with those people?" I asked my friend C after about two weeks of such assaults. "Oh", she replied, "Were they OLD people?" I thought and answered yes.

"Well don't EVER go into a shop where the shop assistants (C is not PC) are old", she told me. "Go to places where they are young and they will be busy on their mobile phones. Then they don't bother you. You can look at clothes for hours and they don't come NEAR you."

Of course she was right. C is always right. I have even put her advice to the test in Manhattan. Especially in Bloomingdales.

Works like a charm.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Thank you for love us

And the only sound that’s left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row - Bob Dylan, Desolation Row, 1965

Michelle, ma belle
Sont les mots qui vont très bien ensemble
Très bien ensemble - Lennon-McCartney, Michelle, 1964
Michelle's sign, 93rd and 2nd Manhattan, 2015

Winter is so last session, the ads would have us believe. Sure. Tell that to the Marines is what we Manhattanites are thinking as we brave the cold, and venture onto the streets which are beginning to evoke rather horrific memories of New York City in the mid-nineties, when Mayor Giuliani was in town.

We have a different mayor now. His name is Bill de Blasio. He eats his pizza with a knife and fork, and he's always late. He was late for Catholic mass on Good Friday. He was late for the St Patrick's Day march in Queens. He is even late for his own breakfast.

Still, he has a following. Late people I expect. Many New Yorkers speak well of him. Especially Brooklyn people. For Bill is nothing if not Brooklyn.

NYC 2015 - So Soviet!
I was out to dinner the other evening, and was talking about de Blasio with a friend. We were sipping cocktails at a new restaurant, the Monte-Carlo (sic) on the Upper East Side.

I had just made a particularly acerbic observation about de Blasio, when the maître de came over. "His name is de Blasio with a zee," she corrected me.

I was tempted to snap back that there's no hyphen in Monte Carlo, but figured it wasn't worth it. And in any case, she was correct. It is pronounced à la Italian with a hard 's'. But I still call him "de Blasio" with a soft 's'.  De Blassio à la Australienne. It makes me feel good.

If I have to put up with Bill de Blasio, at least I can pronounce his name the wrong way.

 I don't think I'll be going back to the Monte-Carlo for a spell. I don't know what that restaurant is doing on the Upper East Side anyway. Like Mayor de Blasio, it's all so Brooklyn. You pay your check millennial style, with an iPad. And the fact that you are paying and the wait staff is waiting is neither here nor there. We are all people, after all.

There's a democratic proletarian vibe about the place despite it's fancy linen serviettes and Manhattan-chic décor.

We might all be equal, but I don't expect to have the waiting staff  listen in to guest's conversations  and to correct their pronunciation. Equality only goes so far!
Empty tables at the Monte-Carlo

Back to the Giuliani-period bleakness that is returning to this city. And Michelle. Michelle -  who is one of the of many whose quality of life has been especially affected -  by the Second Avenue Project in Manhattan.

Michelle used to run Eve's nail Salon on Second Avenue. A typical Manhattan nail salon - the staff were mostly Korean. Big black-and-white posters of American icons hung over mirrored walls. Marilyn, Sinatra, James Dean stared down on us, as we sat in big padded massage chairs having our pedicures. Taking calls on our cell-phones, or reading the  'People' magazines  provided by Michelle.

Eve's Nail Salon was a refuge, a comfort zone amid the mess that has become Second Avenue above 62nd Street for these last nine years or so. Second Avenue Upper East Side - now so much like a scene from of a post-apocalypse movie that you could think you were in Detoit. On the once thriving block between East  93rd and 92d Street, there's only one business left. And Eve's Nail Salon isn't it.

Sign on Manny's on Second - the last business standing
I found this out when I ventured over there last weekend , the first weekend since November when it wasn't snowing or freezing cold. All bordered-up. The building that had housed it "foreclosed".

I stared at the sad little notice that Michelle had put up inside the now brown-papered window giving her phone number and the address of her new place of work, signed with a melancholy, "Thank you for love us".

Dolce Nail Salon, Third Avenue, 2015
Touched, I went to Michelle's new salon on Third. Only a block away and a different world.

"Hello Michelle, it's Kate. I saw your sign!" She gave me a big smile and said she'd missed me. "Hi Kate, how are you?" "I am good Michelle, how are you?"

Knowing someone's name is Manhattan for friend.
On my way home I detoured along Second between 93rd and 94th. Homeless guys live there, between the chicken-wire fences and ugly plastic barriers that separate the empty shells of those buildings that remain and the scaffolds that are holding them up.

'Desolation Row' - 2nd near East  93rd, 2015
The homeless guys all have bits of them missing. A leg here, an arm there.

"Hello!" I greet them with a forced cheery smile. It is dark and damp. Old beer bottles and pizza crusts line what is left of  the sidewalk. "Hello," they answer. "How are you?  Have a good weekend, lady."

New Yorkers are so polite and friendly. Endearing.

Even ones who come from Brooklyn and pronounce de Blasio with a zee.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

On People Who Walk Right Into You

MacArthur's Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down

Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don't think that I can take it '
Cause it took so long to bake it
And I'll never have that recipe again, oh noooooo - Macarthur Park

Here I stand; I can do no other. - Martin Luther, 1521

"That breakup text can wait," captions the traffic-safety poster on the bus stop shelter. But there's no waiting for the plague of millennials on their cell phones who seem to be perpetually on the move on Manhattan's sidewalks.

I have a new tactic. I no longer dodge them; I no longer veer to the right to give way. Nor do I stick to my path, and hope they will look up in time not to bump into me.

There's a trick to it, you see. If you keep to your path, you will automatically move at that last nana second. It's human nature. So I just come to a complete halt. This way I can steady myself and won't be knocked over.

I just stand perfectly still. At first I tried this technique as an experiment - to see when the cell-phone person would realize someone was coming towards them.

Apparently there's an app you can get that advises you when there is an on-coming pedestrian. Of course there's no market for it, because the cell phone people want YOU to move out of the way. Otherwise they'd be looking up in the first place. My stand-still tactic works. Really well. It is now my modus operandi.

There are three responses. Most of the cell-phone texters look up at the last minute and THEY move, without a murmur. About twenty percent complain saying silly things like, "Why can't you move, there's plenty of room?" Such people only serve to make my decision more resolute.

About five percent keep walking. They don't realize that other people exist. And they certainly don't realize that they are about to come across a baby-boomer. My formative years were spent  in demonstrations. Walking down St Kilda Road in Melbourne with 10,000 like-minded people. Braving police people on horses. Stopping for no man. Or woman. A Manhattan millennial on a cell phone is nothing in comparison.

I like to think I am passively resisting. Gandhi-like I make my stand. I'm not going anywhere! " One two three four, we don't want..."  etc.

Mad Men Street Manhattan  © G Chen
Casualties are minor. But as in any war, even peaceful ones, there can be collateral damage. Like last week on Third when I spotted a millennial iPhone person bearing down on me. She was one of the worst kind. Not only was she texting, but she was wired for sound. Sightless and completely deaf - a Hellen Keller of the twenty first century. I braced myself. I stood my ground. She flew straight into me. Taken by surprise she threw her hands in the air. I watched astonished as her silver iPhone 6 flew heavenward. The sun glinted on it as it reached the zenith of its trajectory and hurtled to the ground.

We both stood. Staring at the shattered thing. A sad thing. Deprived of life. The gleam of its silver casing gone, a dead thing. 

I felt mean. She looked at me, waiting. Was I meant to say something? Like time during a car crash, the moment seemed to go on for an eternity. I stayed, expecting her to pick up her phone. I think her ear buds were still playing the last of her iPhone's songs. The final refrain as the umbilical detached and the dead phone lay on the ground.

I couldn't stand the silence, so broke it with, "Not a good idea," and hurried on.

Back in my apartment that evening, I poured a wine and turned on the TV to blot out the stresses of the day.

Watching the news. CNN with its garish almost psychedelic background sets that move disconcertingly as you try to focus on the anchor of the moment. What the hell was he saying? Some bakers in Arkansas protesting that they don't want to bake cakes for gay people?